Tuesday, 3 November 2015

A Simple Checklist Can Go A Long Way

            I don’t know about you, but my entire life is basically made up of lists. To-do lists. Grocery lists. Homework lists. Packing lists. You name it; I got a list for it. But they’re not just any lists, they’re checklists. It is such a satisfying feeling to check something off; it almost acts as an extrinsic motivation for me to finish something. Even if you may not be as serious about lists as I am, I am sure you have used one at some point in your life. Whether it has been a simple packing checklist or a more detailed checklist to ensure you're on the right track for your school assignment, we have all used one. Personally, I find that I am able to stay on track a lot more successfully when I am following a checklist.

Retrieved from here.
As future educators, using checklists in your classroom can be very beneficial for not only you as a teacher but your students as well (Drake, Reid and Kolohon, 2014). Drake, Reid and Kolohon (2014) discuss how checklists can be beneficial to student learning. They focus on summary checklists, which give students steps that need to be met in order to meet the goals of a specific project. This is something that I found very successful not only in my personal life, but in my camp classroom as well. Typically, I would create a checklist for each assignment that I gave them, and they knew that before asking me what the next step is, or claiming that they are ‘done’, they had to look over the checklist and go over each step. Additionally, this allowed them to brake down something bigger into smaller parts, making them feel like they were accomplishing something with each item on the list that they got to check off.

The use of checklists is so beneficial for providing students with a tool that can help them to scaffold their learning (Rowlands, 2007). Rowlands discusses much of this in her paper Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning. She emphasizes the importance of using these operational checklists to encourage independent thinking (Rowlands, 2007). I believe this is a fundamental part of encouraging inquiry based learning, which is a very beneficial way for students to learn.

Retrieved from here.

Retrieved from here.
Considering that during this time and age technology is all that is talked about, and is practically unavoidable, I thought it would be appropriate to share this great app with you. Wunderlist is a mobile app checklist that can create anything from a simple ‘to do’ lists to more complex subtask based lists. You can leave notes, set recurring tasks, share your lists and set alarms. The app lets you break big projects or tasks into manageable smaller goals, which is exactly what our students need! It can sync across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows and the web, allowing you to take your lists everywhere! I don’t know about you, but I am ALWAYS that person who forgets the grocery list at home… and now, the solution to all my problems has landed in my lap! And not only will your students have no excuses (“my dog ate my list!!”), their parents/guardians will be able to see these lists too, so they will have access to all the expectations if they are interested. It’s a win-win all around; you almost have to use it in your classroom!

In the following short video, a teacher discussed her implementation of a peer assessment checklist so that student's can receive feedback on their letter writing skills.

Retrieved from here.

She emphasizes that this assessment technique has helped her students to view her more as a 'coach' and less as a 'teacher who knows it all'. That comment has really resonated with me because it completely represents how I want to be viewed by my students as a teacher. I hope that I will be able to help my students learn without making them feel like I know everything (because the truth is that none of us know EVERYTHING).

Overall, I think that checklists are very beneficial tools that help students become accustomed to following steps, accomplishing complex tasks, feeling in control, staying focused, and understanding details and goals. For more information on the benefits that checklists can provide for improving student learning, read Kristin Marino’s article, as she too believes that checklists are a must!

I guess I can check this of my list now…. Until next time!


Brannon, N. [nbrannon1]. (2005, April 5). Peer editing checklist letter to editor [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR0Lu_-Nyks&feature=youtu.be
Checklist-clip-art-815319 [online image]. (2012). Retrieved from URL (http://www.cliparthut.com/checklist-clip-art-clipart-qva25f.html) 
Close Reader Checklist [online image]. (2014). Retrieved from URL (http://www.arockytopteacher.com/2014/03/close-reading-checklist.html) 
Drake, S. M., Reid, J.L. & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press. 
Fab 5 Checklist [online image]. (2011). Retrieved from URL (http://cdnpix.com/show/imgs/523b91da84d91937a043d948b3ddae9d.jpg) 
Marino, K. (2013, August 12). How a simple checklist can improve learning [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/simple-checklist-can-improve-learning/
Rowlands, K. D. (2007) Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning. English Journal 96(6) 61-66. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Simon Says: Get to Know Your Students

             As I mentioned in my previous post, these past few summers I worked at a literacy camp. It was a 6 week program, and although some campers stayed the same throughout the entire 6 weeks, there were many that changed weekly. This made getting to know my campers that much harder.

 Since each student is so unique, I had to make the lessons connect to their interests and experiences so that they would be engaged and it was relevant to them (Drake, Reid and Kolohon, 2014). This was simple to do with the campers that stayed all 6 weeks, because I developed such amazing relationships with them, and I knew all their likes and dislikes. However, it was very difficult to create that same relationship with the campers that changed weekly because there just was not enough time to get to know them well enough. Just as I finally felt like I was creating a relationship with a camper, and knew how to modify and adapt things to their needs, it would be Friday, and I wouldn’t see them again until next summer. Then, on Monday, I’d have to start all over again…

One of my favourite ice-breaker games that I used to play with my campers was something called ‘People Bingo’. The goal of the game was to find someone who fulfills your bingo squares in a line, like bingo. I would always participate in this game, because I thought it was a really great way to get to know my campers, and for them to get to know me! Below is an example of a People Bingo board, but there can obviously be many variations to it!

Luckily, the school year is not quiet as short as camp, and you have the same students for almost 10 months. So teachers should have no excuse! Getting to know your students is like a secret weapon; there are many benefits to it, and it is really very simple to do! In the following video, Danny Brassel discusses the importance of opening up to your students so that they would open up to you. I really enjoyed his speech, and I think you would too!


Not only is getting to know your students important because it allows you to tailor your lessons to their individual needs but it also helps decrease behavioral problems. Education World (2012) claims that “building positive relationships with your students is the number one way to forestall any behavioral problems that can arise in the classroom”. This is true for multiple reasons. Firstly, creating this relationship will allow your students to know you better, and have more respect for you. The more they respect you, the more they will behave in your classroom (Education World, 2012). Secondly, by getting to know your students you show that you care about them. You show them that you are willing to take time out of your day to talk to them, and learn about them. This makes them like you, not just as a teacher, but also as a person, and they will likely not want to disappoint you by misbehaving (Education World, 2012). Additionally, by knowing your students and their personalities, you have a better understanding of how they will interact with one another. This will help you when you are creating groups, and you would be able to predict which student partnerships will result in behavioural problems, and as a result you can diffuse the situation before it happens (Education World, 2012).

I can definitely say that I saw this phenomenon happen right before my eyes at camp. The campers that I had for all 6 weeks were much better behaved than those that were only there for 1-2 weeks, and that can certainly be an extension of the fact that I developed such significant relationships with them.

Furthermore, the importance of getting to know your students is not restricted to in-person classrooms. With the current rapid rise in technology, online classrooms are becoming more and more popular. Jodie Ginsbach (2015) has been an online educator for almost 7 years at an online public charter school for students in grades K-12. Here she discusses her initial worries about not being able to develop that relationship with her students in an online environment, and how easy it was to her surprise. She was able to establish a bond with her students in a virtual setting, and she was actually able to get more one-on-one interaction with her students in this setting than when she was in a traditional classroom.

The difference that a good relationship with your students can make would surprise you! Listen to Simon, try it!


Beassell, D. [Danny Brassell]. (2009, June 11). Motivational Speaker Danny Brassell: Getting to Know Your Students [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjeY6Nu4IAs
Bingo [online image]. (2012). Retrieved from URL (http://www.allensteachingfiles.com/2012/08/get-to-know-you-activities-beautiful.html) 
Drake, S. M., Reid, J.L. & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press.
Education World. (2012). The secret weapon: Getting to know your students [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/columnists/mcdonald/mcdonald013.shtml 

Ginsbach, J. (2015, September 30). What’s it like to be an online teacher? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/local/stayton/opinion/2015/09/30/whats-like-online-teacher/72713110/

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Fair Isn’t Always Equal

            Over the summer I taught 25 second and third graders at a literacy camp, and many of my campers had very different needs. This was very challenging because my campers were very young, and did not always understand why someone would get treated differently than them and often complain that it was not fair.

            “Miss Nicollllllllle! Why does Anthony get to leave the class and go for a walk??” a camper would complain.

            “HEY! Why can’t I use the iPad like Mehran?!” another camper would exclaim.

            However, what they really meant was that it was not equal, not that it was unfair. Fairness means that "all students have an equal opportunity to succeed" (Drake, Reid & Kolohon, 2014, p. 20), and that does not always mean that things are going to be equal. In order to explain this concept to them, I decided to have a little demonstration. During our morning circle I asked the campers to tell me what they think fairness means, and just as I expected I received a lot of answers about everyone getting the same thing, or doing the same thing. I then asked every camper to share their worst ‘ouch story’, and put a band-aid on their knee no matter where their injury was. Of course, they were all very confused and demanded to know why I would put their band-aid somewhere other than their injury. I then explained to them that I wanted to be fair so I made sure I would give each and everyone of them the exact same support, so that it was equal. After some discussion, the kids started realizing that equal treatment does not always mean fair treatment. Just because one camper needs to go on walks, or sit on a wiggle seat to get out some extra energy, does not mean that all the campers should. Or if one camper needs to use the iPad for certain activities because he is new to English, does not mean that all the campers should. After this discussion it was clear that the kids started to understand why it is fair that some children got different assistance than them, and I did not get any more complaints for the rest of the summer!


Standardized testing is criticised because such tests are unfair as they do not take student individuality into account (Drake, Reid & Kolohon, 2014).

            Dr. Richard Curwin argues that treating everyone the same is actually the most unfair way to teach students. He says being truly fair is harder and requires more work in the short run than just treating everyone the same, but in the long run, it saves time and is more effective. You can read more of his classroom tips here

            “Fairness is more likely when all students have had sufficient and appropriate opportunity both to learn and to demonstrate their learning” (Drake, Reid & Kolohon, 2014, p.21). Therefore teachers need to not only have different assessment tasks and assessment criteria (Drake, Reid & Kolohon, 2014), but also different instruction for children with exceptionalities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines Specially Designed Instruction as adapting appropriately to the needs of the child, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards that apply to all children.

            As future educators it is important for us to remember that being fair means doing our best to give each student what he or she needs to be successful. What one child may need may be very different than what another child may need, and this may not always feel equal.


Curwin, R. (2012, October 23). Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/fair-isnt-equal-richard-curwin

Drake, S. M., Reid, J.L. & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press.

Fairness [online image]. (2013). Retrieved from URL (https://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2013/05/09/educations-blunt-object- epistemology/) 

What Is “Special” About Special Education? Retrieved from http://sss.usf.edu/resources/format/pdf/specially_designed_instruction.pdf